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Archive for February 2005

Brave new world of news? Eek!

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Those who believe they can predict the face of journalism — in terms of a socially and economically sustainable news business — five years from now, let alone decades from now, ought to put their money where their mouths are: Buy stock in a media company you believe has the smarts to navigate the increasingly turbulent waters of journalism’s economic seas.

Lately, the blogging masses have predicted a) the impending death of MSM (god, I hate acronyms) or mainstream media, b) the future inability of the news business to make money in the same manner that it does now and c) anyone can be a journalist.

But they’re just guessing.

Today’s guesser, courtesy of The Washington Post, is columnist Steve Pearlstein — “News Media Grope for the Right Formula.”

It’s an interesting take on several potential futures for the news biz and worth a read.

But as these guesses unfold — including the war of words regarding the individuality of blogging vs. the mass dissemination of MSM — I’ll be asking some fairly simple guestions.

• Who or what will decide what is available to me to read? Or view? Or browse?
• How will I know whom to trust?
• Will someone tell me, without bidding, what he or she believes I need to know to function as an intelligent consumer and citizen — or will I merely be told what I say I want to know?
• How much will it cost, and who’s gonna pay for it?

As technology — and the corporate ability to blend technology increases — the fundamental questions don’t change very much.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 18, 2005 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Local TV news: An oxymoron exposed

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Once again, there’s proof that local TV newscasts — with very rare exceptions — haven’t the faintest interest in helping their viewers become enlightened citizens of the republic.

According to a study released Feb. 15, only 8 percent of 4,000 local newscasts in 11 major markets carried a report about a local campaign in the month before the election. (Read the story. Get the report.)

The study, done by University of Wisconsin and Seton Hall University researchers, says stations in markets including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami used eight — yes, that’s eight — times the air time for car crashes and other accidents than it did for local races for federal, state and local offices.


So why do stations do this? We all know why — money. Big money. Profts from news operations are important to overall station profits. (See local news budget research from RTNDA/F.)

It’s cheap to do car crashes, fires and murders. It’s expensive to hire and develop talented reporters with the skills and sources to make meaning out of politics and political doubletalk.

With the death of various public responsibilities — such as the late, lamented Fairness Doctrine — and the FCC’s continual caving in on broadcast ownership standards, there’s no compelling reason for the media monoliths that own local TV stations to serve the public interest.

Oh, their rhetoric says they do. But check their performance by simply watching. Count the number of stories presented in each newscast. Of that number, how many are fires? Accidents? Shootings?

How many are “one-source” stories in which a well-coiffed “talent” holds a mike in front of just one person? How many of those stories represent just the “talent” talking with no apparent source at all? How many of those stories were simple “feel-good” stories?

If you want better performance from local TV newscasts, begin by bitching about them to those who have sway — such as the advertisers carried on those newscasts.

In the current political climate in communication industry regulation, bitching to the FCC doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

— DW

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 15, 2005 at 11:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

FTC and product placement: No label required

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Has the FTC (a.k.a., depending on your POV, the Federal Trade Commission or the Feds Tuck it to Citizens again) stiff-armed attempts to identify and label product placement in programming?

Commercial Alert, an advocacy organization in Portland, Ore., asked the FTC “to require that placements be prominently identified with a superimposed message like ‘advertisement’ as they occur during programming.” (See how it works.)

That means Commercial Alert wants some goofy little arrow pointing at a Coke can in a movie, shouting, “It’s an ad! It’s an ad!” Well, we could do without that annoyance and intrusion on artistic license, can’t we?

Says Businessweek’s David Kiley: “Product integration into TV shows, video games and even magazines is taking off. More and more advertising is going to be woven into the shows we watch, the games we play and the magazines we read. Why? Because advertisers have spent so many years hurling static, uninteresting or obnoxious ads at us, we have driven demand for technology that enables us to skip the ads. Advertisers don’t like that, especially when they are paying big bucks for the time and space.” (Read more.) notes that marketers are pressing for print magazine product placements in editorial content.

Product placement is fundamentally a practice of deceit. Why is that particular product in that particular movie or TV show at that particular time? Or that magazine? Or that web zine? By chance? Or by paid-for intent?

The FTC admitted that “there may be instances in which the line between advertising and programming may be blurred.” Why should we put up with a blurred line?

When will marketers eventually pressure newspapers for product placement in editorial content? That’s a significant concern.

Note, too, that product placement has become a significant funding source for programming of all kinds, especially films. If certain products fund films, does creativity get stifled in the product placer’s desire to have an appropriate “buying mood”?

The FTC’s mission: “In general, the Commission’s efforts are directed toward stopping actions that threaten consumers’ opportunities to exercise informed choice.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like the agency that increased the likelihood of less informed choice by rejecting Commercial Appeal’s petition.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 12, 2005 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

H-P’s version of job creation: Buy another company?

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Remember that American Jobs Creation Act? (See my earlier post.)

You know, the act that allows some of America’s largest corporations — just once — to get a break on taxes on profits they’ve been accumulating overseas but have not repatriated. Corporations get to pay 5.25 percent rather than 35 percent when they bring these profits home.

They’re also supposed to tell us what they plan to do with that money. Remember, it’s a “jobs creation” act. That money is supposed to create jobs. Congress said so.

Hewlett-Packard (the company that just sacked glamour queen CEO Carly Fiorina) has $14 billion ready to swim home. And that’s just a small fraction of the $400 billion America corporations want to free from high-tax hell.

Fiorina’s out because her grand acquisition of 2002 — Compaq Computer — was supposed to “synergize” H-P and expand its line of products and services. But, as The New York Times points out, that move “greatly increased Hewlett-Packard’s dependence on the cutthroat PC business …” and hurt the ol’ bottom line.

H-P’s strength has always been imaging — printers, copiers and supplies for same. But now, the Times says, that division produces about 75 percent of the profit but only about 30 percent of revenues. And H-P has revenues of $81 billion.

So how does H-P return to its core imaging business? And strengthen its market position accordingly?

Create more jobs in its own imaging division? Have more people make more H-P printers and copiers and make them better than anyone else’s?


Sell those divisions that hurt profitability, such as its corporate computer unit.

And buy Eastman-Kodak or Xerox — both big names in the imaging business.

Will buying create Kodak or Xerox create more jobs?

Nope. We’ve seen it time and time again — when huge corporations merge, “efficiencies” are realized, and jobs get whacked.

Kodak, at $9.8 billion stock market value, and Xerox, at $14.2 billion, won’t come cheap.

So how will H-P foot the bill?

Remember that $14 billion in profits parked overseas? You know, the $14 billion H-P will be taxed on at only 5.5 percent? You know, the $14 billion that’s supposed to help, under the American Jobs Creation Act, actually create new jobs?

Keep your eye on H-P and what it does with its $14 billion. And keep an eye on Pfizer ($38 billion) and Proctor & Gamble ($10.7 billion). And on Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and > Plough (a combined $37 billion).

They’ve all got big money sitting overseas that will cost a pittance to bring home. And I bet they’re all in a buying mood — not in a hiring mood.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 12, 2005 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Another accused plagiarist canned

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The Worcester (Ma.) Telegram & Gazette has fired a 20-year veteran sportswriter, claiming he lifted material for his columns verbatim from other sources without attribution.

In Boston Globe and New York Times stories, the T&G’s editor gives examples that make it clear sportswriter Ken Powers used the words and ideas of others without their permission — and that’s the definition of plagiarism.

An unusual wrinkle in this case is that Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, from whom the T&G claims Powers stole material, asked the T&G to be compassionate in its handling of Powers and to keep him on staff, the Globe story said.

I teach media ethics to undergraduates. What should I tell them about this case and why it’s important? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 4, 2005 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Air an ad opposing Bush? Oh, noooo

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In case you missed it, four networks refused to run an ad opposing W’s plan to limit those nasty medical malpractice lawsuits.

NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox all said no to USAction’s request to air an ad opposing W’s proposals before tonight’s State of the Union address.

Said NBC, according to the Times, “We are sorry that we cannot accept your ad based on our network policy regarding controversial advertising.”

CNN, surprisingly, said it would run the ad. It accepts advocacy advertising. Kudos to CNN.

If you wonder why the Big Nets and Fox are reluctant to run an ad that opposes the president, consider:

The Nets made a small fortune (politicians spent a billion dollars in the last election cycle) accepting political advertising from the two major parties (talk about controversy!). W’s tort and medical malpractice reforms are backed by National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Lessee. The Nets are owned by corporations.

It ain’t too hard to connect the dots, people.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 2, 2005 at 3:35 pm

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The jobs creation act that doesn’t create jobs

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How’d you like — just once — to get a break on your income taxes? How’d you like to pay — just once — only about 5 percent of your income instead of 30-ish percent to Uncle Sam?

Well, you can’t. But thanks to the American Jobs Creation Act, some of America’s largest corporations can — just once — get a break on taxes on profits they’ve been accumulating overseas but have not repatriated. According to a New York Times story Tuesday, the act ” allows companies to pay 5.25 percent rather than 35 percent on the foreign profits.” The company must also file a plan on what it intends to do with that money. Remember, this is called the “jobs creation” act.

So who’s doing what?

Hewlett-Packard has, the Times say, about $14 billion in overseas profits it wants to return to home soil. But … the company that has cut about 25,000 jobs in the past three years plans to continue to reduce its workforce, it says.

Howzat job creation?

Proctor & Gamble has about $10.7 billion parked overseas, the Times says. The “jobs creation” act would allow it to use the money to help buy its competitor, Gillette, for $57 billion.

Now, now. We all know that when one company swallow another, it seeks “cost efficiencies” — that means people lose their jobs.

So how will the devilish P&G — if it uses its tax break to help acquire Gillette — actually do some “job creation”?

The big winner in this tax-break sweepstakes appears to be Pfizer — which has $38 billion to bring home to momma. (Disclosure: My brother works for Pfizer.)

And Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and Schering Plough have a combined $37 billion to bring home.

Sooo … will Big Pharma end up in a “jobs creation” mood?

Hardly, the Times says: “Far more likely, Wall Street analysts said, is that the companies will use their tax windfall to license drugs from others, take over other companies or simply shore up their balance sheets.”

In all, there’s about $400 billion that American companies have sitting overseas that this law will allow them to bring home at only 5 cents on the dollar in taxes.

Okay, so there’s good reason for Joe Citizen to be irritated. But maybe these enormous corporations will actually use this money to fulfill the part of the law that requires “homeland reinvesment.” Maybe we’ll see more jobs created. Maybe they’ll obey the spirit of the “jobs creation” act.

Now, now, stop laughing.

Here’s the sad, sad point:

How well will mainstream journalism — you know, CNN, the big networks (well, they’re so big anymore, are they), our “national newspapers” like the Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. — actually cover the story?

Will American journalism keep close tabs on what company brings home how much money, report how much was paid in taxes, and tell us what was done with the money?

I’m not optimistic. After all, these are some of America’s largest corporations. What influence do you think they might have on America’s largest media corporations?

When big money is being spread around, you’re unlikely to hear about it on the front page.

Even the Times’ Tuesday report was parked on C1, not A1.

And that’s just sad.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 2, 2005 at 12:41 pm

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taxing tuition bennies

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Penny wise and pound foolish.

That’s the federal government’s attitude toward helping people pay for college so we’ll have a more educated citizenry at a time when more people need to make more decisions on more information just to get through their daily lives.

Instead of enhancing educational opportunity, some in government want to make tuition a federal cash cow.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation wants to tax tuition benefits given to employees of universities and colleges. (Disclosure: I’m an employee of a university.)

Here’s how that works:

Say you’re a professor (or a secretary or an administrator or a guy who works in maintenance). Generally you or your children may attend the college you work for without paying tuition. That’s a perk, and a nice one at that.

Educators want to keep it because, I’d argue, most educators (and other non-tenured college employees, like that guy in maintenance) don’t make a helluva lot of money teaching the nation’s children.

But the Joint Committee on Taxation says that’s unfair because it’s a perk that only “a limited group of taxpayers” has access to.

So the committee wants to tax those benefits. Now, follow the chain of events should that happen. University employees will want their institutions to raise their salaries to cover that added tax cost. Colleges and universities, under financial pressure to stop raising tuition (now at more than twice the rate of inflation), will be unlikely to do so.

So committed educators (and their necessary support staff) leave colleges and universities in droves. So what will be the impact on the education of the college students? Not so good.

Why does the federal government want to do this? To do what it always does: Get more money out of the governed. In this case, the feds argue that taxing this tuition benefit would raise $1.9 billion (yes, that’s with a B) over 10 years.

That money (seems like a lot, doesn’t it?) would pay for only 10 days of the American incursion into Iraq, where we’re dropping more than $200 million a day with no end in sight, elections notwithstanding.

Is that outcome (raising enough money over 10 years to fund a war for less than two weeks) worth the not-so-good impact on teaching the nation’s children?


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 1, 2005 at 2:40 pm

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